Recruiting rundown: Nerlens Noel now top dog in class of ’12

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After the late August decision by center Andre Drummond to enter the college ranks at, 6-6 wing Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Nev.) held a significant reign as the unchallenged, consensus top high school basketball prospect in the 2012 class. In the always changing world of high-major basketball recruits, nothing is set in stone, as Muhammad found out regarding his No. 1 ranking.

In less than a week’s time, two major services (ESPN and Scout) have anointed a new top dog in the senior class, 6-11 center Nerlens Noel of Tilton School (N.H.), by way of Everett, Mass. Other services are certain to follow that decision. A few years back, Noel’s decision to reclassify from a 2012 prospect to a member of the 2013 class drew virtually no attention, as he was a prospect primarily based on height, alone. Time has been kind to Noel, though, and he is now a special prospect with very real NBA upside.

Something special has happened in Noel’s development over the last six months, starting with his AAU team’s roughshod run over much of its competition over the spring and summer, as BABC (Boston Amateur Basketball Club) didn’t encounter many foes capable of stopping their attack. At the centerpiece of the successful team, Noel showed out as a fearless defender, capable of rejecting shots from difficult angles.

Playing for one of the top prep schools in the country, Noel has now expanded his offensive game, as well. While not completely polished, his ball skills and handle have improved, and he uses an athletic burst to score around the hoop. But make no mistake; Noel’s claim to fame is still his unreal defensive presence, with countless blocked and altered shots being his calling card, virtually every game. He’s a stopper seldom encounter in amateur basketball.

Noel announced mid-week that he intends to re-join his original class, and reclassify to the 2012 class. That decision immediately sent shockwaves through the ranks of basketball recruitniks, as Noel is a rare talent as a near 7-footer, much like Anthony Davis, that doesn’t necessarily come along every year. Presumably, his stay in the college ranks won’t amount to more than a season, but he projects to be a centerpiece, defensively, on a team intending to make an NCAA tournament run. The move was long rumored, and with his continued improvement it isn’t clear what competition he would have faced that would have challenged him in any way, had he stuck around for another season at Tilton School.

Interested programs have just over two months to woo Noel prior to the regular signing period, and the early indications are that Kentucky and Syracuse could be the frontrunners in landing Noel. At Kentucky, Noel would seem to be the ideal replacement for the aforementioned Davis, while Syracuse he would be  a supplement to Fab Melo, who should return as a junior, and another blue chip freshman center in DaJuan Coleman, a 280 pound presence.

There’s still time for North Carolina, Providence and possibly others to make up ground in Noel’s recruitment, and potentially other schools may get involved as well.

Still, Muhammad has a killer instinct that was a large reason analysts so readily rewarded him with the top spot in their respective rankings. His answer to being “demoted” to the No. 2 spot? He put up 41 points on 6 of 6 shooting from 3-point land against power Whitney Young (IL) in a weekend televised showcase game. To be clear, Muhammad hasn’t done anything to merit being moved down, but he’s more of a victim to the circumstance of such a high-upside, unique player like Noel being added to the mix.

There’s also still the possibility that Muhammad and Noel could team up in college, as Muhammad also counts Kentucky as a finalist for his services. That could be an unbelievable duo. It certainly remains to be seen how the class will shake out several years down the road, but it is imprudent to bet against Muhammad’s relentless work ethic and style, just as it as to discount the rare attributes that Noel can bring to the hardwood.

Bayou bruiser Ricardo Gathers takes Baylor in, and commits
Former St. John’s pledge Ricardo Gathers was extremely sought after, following parting ways with the Johnnies, but he’s back off the board. Gathers made a verbal commitment after a trip to Baylor’s campus last weekend. The 6-7, 240 pound power forward is a top-35 prospect in the 2012 class, and looks to be an ideal replacement to the skill set and rebounding production that Baylor senior Quincy Acy currently brings.

Gathers is coached at Riverside Academy (L.A.) by former Baylor star “Tweety” Carter’s former high school coach, and he will be a perfect foil to top-5 prospect Isaiah Austin, a slender and finesse-oriented who also signed with the Bears. Gathers has a take-no-prisoners style and is serious about owning the boards. He’s a good athlete that has the build of a supersized NFL tight end. Gathers, Austin and top-100 point guard LJ Rose assure Baylor will have a top-10 recruiting class, this year.

In adding Gathers, Baylor has also largely insulated itself against the potential loss of current freshman Quincy Miller, who is likely to get serious NBA feelers at the conclusion of the season. Baylor continues to recruit at an extremely high-level, and now has a frontcourt that can do serious damage, with Austin, Gathers and potentially Miller all possessing serious star power. Rose will help down the line, though Baylor seems to have a burgeoning star in current junior Pierre Jackson (last year’s top JC recruit in the country) in the backcourt.

Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.